Jusuf Kalla Calls on Mosques to Turn It Down During Ramadan

The Jakarta Globe

A relatively quieter Ramadan may be in store this year after former Vice President Jusuf Kalla called on the Indonesian Council of Ulema to help control the volume of mosques’ call to prayer.

“There is no other country in the world except Indonesia where the call to prayer is deafening,” he said in a speech on Saturday addressed to the council, also known as the MUI, that was broadcast by local television stations.

“If [mosques] want to compete, they should do so based on the quality of the call to prayer, not the volume of their speakers.”

Umar Shihab, one of the chairmen of the MUI, told the Jakarta Globe on Sunday that the council responded positively to Kalla’s advice.

“We have to admit that there are many complaints about the loud calls to prayer during Ramadan, as if there is a competition,” Umar said.

“Apart from that, some of them start calling for prayers an hour or two hour before the schedule, when it it’s better to be done just 30 minutes before,” he said.

Umar said the MUI would ask mosques to heed the call and be more orderly.

“It should not be about which one is the first or the loudest to call for prayer,” he said. “It should be about the quality of the prayer, because Islam is an orderly and beautiful religion.”

Last December, the Praya District Court in West Nusa Tenggara sentenced an American man to five months in jail for blasphemy for pulling the plug on a mosque’s loudspeaker during a prayer reading during Ramadan last year.

Is Indonesia in for a Disappointing Sequel?

The Jakarta Globe

Droves of moviegoers flocked back to hundreds of cinemas across the country on Friday to see the boy wizard defeat Voldemort once and for all on the big screen.

That the screening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” — the biggest blockbuster so far this year — marked the end of Indonesia’s Hollywood film dry spell appeared to be a worthy conclusion to the long drawn-out saga.

But worries remain that a sequel might be in store.

New Actor

Controversy has surrounded Omega Film, the company largely responsible for bringing Hollywood blockbusters back to Indonesian theaters, from the start.

After the Motion Pictures Association of America and Cineplex 21 announced that no films from major Hollywood studios would be brought into the country from Feb. 17 pending the resolution of a dispute with the government over royalty calculations, the Finance Ministry responded by announcing a ban on three film importers that collectively owed Rp 30 billion ($3.4 million) in import taxes.

It was later discovered that two of the three banned importers were Camila Internusa Film and Satrya Perkasa Esthetika Film, both affiliated with Cineplex 21 and responsible for bringing in MPAA films.

With the ban on the two importers in place, the eventual resolution of the royalty dispute last month failed to bring back Hollywood blockbusters.

When news emerged that a new company, which was named Omega Film and believed to be related to Cineplex 21, had been granted an import license, moviegoers thought they had found their hero.

But as with all good films, the plot quickly thickened.

First, there were questions over why it was the only one of six new companies that applied for a film import license to be granted one.

Susiwijono Moegiarso, a director at the customs office, on Thursday denied allegations of special treatment.

“Yes, there were six companies, including Omega Film, that applied for film import licenses,” he said. “But it needs to be understood that Omega Film applied for an import license in April, and the other five just applied in May and June. So Omega Film got its license earlier.”

Susiwijono added that the license applications of the five others had not been rejected, but rather investigations into the companies were ongoing. “Hopefully, they’ll be done next week,” he said.

Then on July 5, the customs office suddenly froze Omega’s license, saying the company had not fulfilled all requirements. Suspiciously, Omega had the same office address as the five other companies.

But 10 days later, the customs office lifted the ban on Omega, “because they had completed the requirements and explained the company to us — its organizational structure, the directors and commissioners, whether they had the competency or not,” Susi wijono said.

Monopoly fears

Lawmakers have questioned this sudden lift of the ban, alleging something akin to deus ex machina (god out of the machine), the plot device that sees an unexpected power step in to resolve a seemingly hopeless situation.

An alleged relationship to Cineplex 21 and even to the ruling family have been floated as reasons for the positive turn of events in Omega’s way.

Syamsul Lussa, head of the film department at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, said one of Omega’s directors is Ajay Fulwani, who, according to cinema pioneer and film importer Ilham Bintang, is a nephew of Harris Lesmana, one of Cineplex 21’s big bosses. There were also rumors that lawmaker and Democratic Party secretary general Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, the president’s son, was also involved.

Tourism Minister Jero Wacik dismissed all this, and subsequent allegations of a Cineplex 21 monopoly over the film industry.

As long as the names of a company’s directors and commissioners were not similar to those of the cinema company, “then it is not a monopoly,” Jero said.

He acknowledged that 80 percent of Indonesia’s 676 screens were owned by Cineplex 21, but pointed out that this only meant it dominated the industry, not monopolized it.

And he denied rumors of the ruling family’s involvement. “Bringing Cikeas into the Omega Film issue is very cynical. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is very concerned about this,” he said. “I asked Edhie Baskoro and he said no.”

Cineplex 21 spokesman Noorca Massardi could not be reached for comment.

Djonny Sjafruddin, head of the Indonesian Cinema Companies Union (GPBSI), has also defended Cineplex 21 over the monopoly claims.

“The Business Competition Supervisory Commission [KPPU] has already investigated [Cineplex 21] twice and did not find any evidence of a monopoly,” he said.

Tadjudin Noer Said, a commissioner at KPPU, acknowledged that the cinema industry was dominated by one player, but he explained that as long as it did not control prices, then it was not considered a monopoly.

Still, Syamsul has said that “if there is dodgy data about Omega Film, we are going to revoke its business permit.”

If that happens, Indonesia may very well see a sequel to the Hollywood boycott.

After the Tax Drama, Indonesia Outlines New Plan to Boost Local Industry

The Jakarta Globe

One thing lost in the complex web the Hollywood film boycott has spun is the reason the government gave for wanting to hike taxes on film imports in the first place: to stimulate the local film industry.

Just days after the boycott began on Feb. 17, Tourism Minister Jero Wacik said the president, prompted by a comment from director Hanung Bramantyo in the local media about improving the domestic industry without imposing new taxes, had asked him to review the proposed tax regime.

On Thursday, Jero finally announced the plan to help the struggling industry, outlining a new company that would help fund local projects.

“We are going to establish Indonesian Film Finance to provide low-interest loans to Indonesian filmmakers,” he said. “This way we can help to improve the quantity and quality of Indonesian films.”

Aside from the help with funding, Jero said the Finance Ministry had also agreed to eliminate taxes on the importation of film production equipment. “Film production equipment and materials have always been listed as luxury items and therefore were slapped with high taxes,” he said.

However, Jero said it was not possible to do away with the value-added tax, either on domestic or foreign films. “So instead of revoking the value-added tax on domestic films, we are going to reduce the tax to a minimum level,” he said.

The country’s film industry has suffered a downturn in recent years. In 2009, only six local films sold more than a million tickets each at the box office. In 2010, only one movie broke the million mark.

Last year, 81 Indonesian films had cinema releases, slightly down from 83 films in 2009, although a significant decline from 91 big-screen releases in 2008. Even without Hollywood blockbusters, 75 foreign films were imported in the first seven months of this year.

The government is hoping to double local film production to about 200 a year by 2014 to equal the number of foreign films imported.

Jero said he wanted that ratio to eventually be 60 percent local films to 40 percent foreign.

In March, the minister also said the government was planning to allocate a special budget to subsidize the production of films that “instill love in the nation, raise patriotism and national defense.” But that plan was quickly panned.

“Filmmakers will try to meet the criteria needed to get the subsidy instead of focusing their creative efforts on producing a quality film,” Joko Anwar, a prominent director, said at the time.

Fans Turn Potty Over Harry’s Finale

The Jakarta Globe

Chrestella Tan, Elisabeth Oktofani & Hangga Brata

In a sign, perhaps, of just how excited Indonesians are to finally be able to watch the last installment of the Harry Potter series, a mad rush for tickets ensued on Wednesday.

By early afternoon, the online booking system operated by 21Cineplex, one of two movie chains screening “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” starting on Friday, crashed.

When the Jakarta Globe attempted to register on 21Cineplex’s MTIX Web site, the site said it could no longer process new members because it was overloaded.

Blitz Megaplex, the second movie chain, said it had anticipated the increased demand by adding an extra server.

“Now we have separate servers for the Web site and data base so the Web site is faster,” Blitz marketing head Dian Sunardi told the Globe.

In XXI Senayan City, people started lining up for tickets even before the theater opened at 11:30 a.m.

“When we opened the cinema this morning, crowds of fans were already waiting to buy tickets for Friday,” said Rahmat, a security officer.

Mela, the manager for XXI Senayan City, said tickets for all screenings on Friday were almost sold out. “But many people are also buying tickets for Saturday and Sunday. People have been waiting for this,” she said.

Ranny, 19, who came with her family, bought nine tickets for a screening on Friday. “It’s full already. I bought nine for me and my family, but we need to sit separately. Like two, four, here and there,” he said.

Sheggy Chesario, 23, an advertising account executive, said that he had tickets to watch Harry Potter on Friday night.

“I stood in line for 45 minutes and got three tickets for the Friday 7:45 p.m. show at Plaza Senayan,” Sheggy said.

Wendy, 18, has already seen the movie in Singapore but was in line to get tickets. “And a lot of friends are texting me and asking me to buy them Harry Potter tickets,” she said.

Meanwhile, the postal service in Solo reissued a series of stamps bearing likenesses of characters from the films. The stamps, which Solo postal authorities say can be used to ship mail anywhere in Indonesia, are available as four different sets of 12, and cost Rp 35,000 ($4.15) each.

Hanin Fathan Choiriyah, a spokeswoman with the Solo Postal Service, warned that supplies of the collectibles were limited, with only 400 of the 12-stamp series in stock.

The stamps, originally produced in 2007, were reissued with the movie release.

Sufferers Count Costs of Living With the Disease

The Jakarta Globe

Sufferers Count Costs of Living With the Disease

Elisabeth Oktofani & Dessy Sagita

Andriana Bintang has gotten used to taking entecavir first thing in the morning when she wakes up. Having been diagnosed with hepatitis B in 2008, the 28-year-old said it was something she simply had to learn to live with.

“Although it is very frustrating having to take medication every morning, I have to do it,” she said. “This is a decision that I made a couple of years ago, as I want to live longer and be healthier.”

Andriana is one of a growing number of Indonesians living with hepatitis B, but one of the few who can afford the medicine to treat the disease.

Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the Health Ministry’s director general for disease control and environmental health, said about 30 million people in the country were infected with some strain of the hepatitis virus. The disease attacks the liver and can progress to organ failure or cancer.

Half of those infected suffer from serious liver problems, he said, with some 1.5 million people at high risk of developing liver cancer.

Indonesia now has the third highest number of hepatitis B and C cases in the world. Only China and India have more.

Worldwide, an estimated 170 million people — one-twelfth of the global population — have either hepatitis B or C, according to World Health Organization figures. Some 1.5 million people die of the infections annually.

One of the major problems is that treatment for the disease is expensive.

Andriana, who began taking medication early in 2009, said she spends Rp 2.2 million ($260) for 30 pills each month.

“My life is not cheap, because I have to spend more than half of my salary on the medication, but I hope that the treatment can be made cheaper soon,” she said.

Tjandra said the government was working to make hepatitis drugs cheaper, but chances of a free hepatitis vaccine for adults remain slim without additional funding.

The vaccine for hepatitis strains A and B — there is no vaccine for type C — requires three shots at a cost of Rp 80,000 a shot.

The Health Ministry has declared that hepatitis poses a serious threat to the nation and, since 2003, has included the hepatitis vaccine on the list of mandatory basic immunizations required for all newborns.

Andriana, who has a 1-year-old son, said she made sure her child was vaccinated soon after he was born.

“When my son was born, I ensured that he got vaccinated in the hospital because I did not want him to get infected as it can never be cured,” she said.

“Other than that, I have to always remember to renew the vaccine once every 10 years because that is the only way to prevent him for getting infected with hepatitis B,” Andriana said.

“Life with hepatitis B is expensive.” 

Question Lift of Ban on Film Imports

The Jakarta Globe

Markus Junianto Sihaloho, Arientha Primanita & Elisabeth Oktofani

Although Hollywood blockbusters are expected to be back on Indonesian screens on Friday, the foreign film controversy appears far from over.

Lawmakers weighed into the saga on Tuesday, questioning the government’s decision to lift the ban on a film imports even though its tax issues had yet to be fully resolved.

Ibrahim Sakti Batubara, a National Mandate Party (PAN) lawmaker from House of Representatives Commission X, which oversees sports and tourism affairs, alleged that pressure from foreign movie producers had played a role in the decision.

“I don’t know why the freeze was lifted when so many problems, especially related to the tax issue, were not resolved,” Ibrahim said. He also criticized Tourism Minister Jero Wacik for behaving like the spokesman for foreign film importers. “I will ask the commission to summon the minister to explain this movie import issue,” he said.

The return of Hollywood films was made possible by the Customs and Excise Office clearing newly registered film importer Omega Film to bring in movies.

Omega was given a film import license on May 3, but a freeze was imposed as officials sought to clarify its relationship with Indonesian film giant Cineplex 21.

Cineplex 21 is affiliated with Camila and Satrya, two major film importers banned by the Finance Ministry pending payment of Rp 22 billion ($2.6 million) in back taxes and interest.

Bambang Soesatyo, a lawmaker from Commission III overseeing legal affairs, said the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) should investigate whether the so-called tax mafia was involved in the film import industry. He said the sudden revocation of the freeze should raise suspicion that there had been political interference.

Speaking to reporters at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday, Wacik denied “the ruling power” had interfered and rejected claims that Cineplex 21 and Omega were operating a monopoly. “There used to be a monopoly, but we’re in the process of phasing it out, we can’t just do it with a snap of the fingers,” Wacik said.

“If they’ve got 600 buildings, 600 screens, how can we get rid of them all? Previously, if you imported a film, only you could show it. Not any more. If A imports films, it’s legally obliged to allow all other screening companies to show it. But it hasn’t been fully implemented.

“Anyone can be a film importer, the only catch is, can you get the films from Hollywood agents?”

Djonny Sjafruddin, head of the Indonesian Cinema Companies Union (GPBSI), also defended Cineplex 21 over the monopoly claims. “Although the Indonesian cinema industry is dominated by Cineplex 21, the Business Competition Supervisory Commission [KPPU] has already investigated them twice and did not find any evidence of a monopoly.”

Magic Wish Granted: Harry Potter Scheduled to Hit Screens on Friday

The Jakarta Globe

Indonesia’s Harry Potter fans will finally get their chance to see the last installment of the hit movie series on Friday, cinema officials said on Tuesday.

“ ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ will be screened starting on Friday,” Djonny Sjafruddin, head of the Indonesian Cinema Companies Union (GPBSI), told the Jakarta Globe.

The film will not be exclusively screened by film industry giant Cineplex 21.

Dian Sunardi, head of marketing at Blitzmegaplex, said they had also been informed that the Harry Potter film was scheduled to be screened starting on Friday.

“Unless the distributor changes the screening schedule, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ will be screened by Friday and our first show time will be at 12 o’clock,” she said.

The screening of the boy wizzard’s saga in Indonesian cinemas will mark the return of Hollywood blockbusters to the country more than five months after major American studios began a boycott over a royalty dispute.

“Transformers 3” will likely be screened 10 days later.

“Kung Fu Panda 2” has also passed censors and will be screened.

But Djonny has said that even with Hollywood films back in Indonesian cinemas, GPBSI will prioritize the screening of local films with five due for screening during Ramadan, he said.

Govt Sets Its Sights on Illicit Online Music Downloads

The Jakarta Globe

On the heels of its war against pornographic Web sites, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has a new target: Web sites that permit the illegal downloading of pirated music.

Ministry spokesman Gatot Dewa Broto said the government would block the sites, particularly those containing Indonesian music. On Wednesday, he launched a six-month campaign to raise awareness in the fight against a practice that the state says costs it Rp 12 trillion ($1.4 billion) a year.

“The figure is the estimated sum of digital music sold online without the permission of the copyright owner,” he said.

“It is harming the music industry. The six-month campaign aims to get as many recommendations as possible from citizens because we don’t want to make any mistakes.

“Aside from that, this is a sensitive issue and we don’t want people to think that we’re preventing them from accessing cheap entertainment products.”

Gatot said the government had established a group comprised of musicians to help in the campaign against illegal downloads.

The ministry is working with internet service providers, which were involved in blocking porn sites, to implement the campaign. The blocking will be based on the Web address, or URL.

“Once the introductory phase is complete, we are going to raise public awareness by explaining the legal implications of the p r ogram and what the consequences are for actions that violates the regulation,” Gatot said.

The program is based on the controversial Electronic Transaction and Information (ITE) law, specifically Article 25, which protects electronic information, electronic documents, and intellectual property. The campaign also is based on the 2002 Copyright Law.

Gatot said the campaign received support from the Indonesian music industry, which was harmed by the illegal market.

Veteran musician Samsudin Hardjakusumah, better known as Sam Bimbo, applauded the government’s move and described it as a “Lebaran gift” for the industry.

“We at Bimbo have composed more than 800 songs but we continue to suffer losses because if music piracy,” the 69-year-old told the Antara news agency.

“Those who work harder should earn more,” he said. “But because of piracy, those who earn more aren’t those who actually work harder.”

The Communication and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring launched the campaign at a ceremony on Wednesday attended by composers and lawmakers.

US to Help Capital Clean Up Its Act

The Jakarta Globe

US to Help Capital Clean Up Its Act

The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency met with key stakeholders in Jakarta on Monday in a bid to reduce the city’s suffocating air pollution.

Michelle DePass, an assistant administrator at the EPA, said the meeting provided valuable insights into pinpointing the root causes of Jakarta’s deteriorating air quality.

“This stakeholder meeting is a key opportunity for us to have a discussion,” she said. “But we realize that long-term cooperation [with stakeholders in Jakarta] is needed. We need to work very hard to be able to provide a long-term benefit.”

Last month, the Environment Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with the EPA designed to strengthen environmental corporation between the United States and Indonesia, and to work on pollution reduction in Jakarta.

The so-called Breathe Easy Jakarta program aims to address the air pollution problem in Jakarta and establish cost-effective strategies for improving air quality and public health.

DePass said the EPA and the Jakarta government would cooperate in areas such as air quality monitoring, compiling emissions inventories, air quality modeling, health assessments and the development of air pollution control strategies. The partnership, she said, would involved capacity building, transfer of technology and some pilot programs.

Karliansyah, a deputy minister for pollution control at the Environment Ministry, said the meeting was hoped to establish a commitment among all stakeholders to work to improve Jakarta’s air quality. “It requires cooperation from all stakeholders to reduce air pollution in Jakarta,” he said. “We need to establish commitment and encourage coordination between the government and stakeholders.”

Karliansyah said that as part of Breathe Easy Jakarta, the government hoped to improve air quality management and work to develop an information system that to manage air pollution.

Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo said Greater Jakarta already had a supporting bylaw to implement the Breathe Easy Jakarta program.

“In this case, Jakarta is the only province in Indonesia that already has a regulation on reducing air pollution,” Fauzi said. “So, instead of establishing a regulation, we can just jump to action.”

Karliansyah said Jakarta needed to address the transportation sector, which contributes around 23 percent of the city’s air pollution.

“The increasing number of motorcycles has an impact not only on fuel consumption and heavy traffic but also air pollution,” he said.

Fauzi said that Jakarta was trying to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles by conducting regular emission tests. “This action can reduce air pollution significantly,” he said.

Karliansyah added some action had also been taken at the central government level such as discarding the use of a lead additive in gasoline in 2001 and developing better mass transportation such as the Transjakarta busway.

Thousands Of Bylaws Set to Be Repealed: Ministry

The Jakarta Globe

Thousands Of Bylaws Set to Be Repealed: Ministry

The government has scrapped more than 2,000 bylaws with the potential to disrupt investment and burden business, the Home Affairs Ministry said on Monday, and thousands more could go.

“Up to now, the ministry has revoked 2,285 regulations,” said Raydonnyzar Moenek, a ministry spokesman. “There are 2,678 more bylaws in the process of being canceled and 175 that are being clarified and could be dropped.

“Basically, those regional bylaws have been revoked because they go against the 2006 presidential decree on improving the investment climate.”

The ministry is reviewing 9,408 bylaws, with the Finance Ministry advising that 4,885 of those could be scrapped.

Raydonnyzar said the bylaws being reviewed were issued between 2002 and 2011, before the 2009 Regional Tax and Revenue Law was implemented.

The national law on taxes and the regional bylaws often contradict, creating an environment where businesses are unsure of their tax obligations.

Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi said his office had reviewed more than 50 percent of existing bylaws that could hamper investment with levies and other taxes.

But there is concern that if the bylaws were all scrapped at once, it would leave many taxpayers out in the cold who had paid their taxes based on the regional legislation.

Gamawan said the government would discuss tax refunds for businesses that paid higher rates under the regional bylaws.

“ We are going to study what kind of refund mechanism is needed because the taxes have been paid for more than five years,” he said. “We might need to consider sourcing funding.”

Since regional autonomy was introduced in the wake of President Suharto’s resignation in 1998, districts and provinces have issued bylaws taxing nearly all businesses and government services. Those bylaws often overlap with laws issued by the central government or conflict with ones issued by other districts and provinces.

The central government has identified many bylaws to be repealed. These included taxes on the traffic of livestock, entertainment businesses, public transportation and the mining industry.

Overlapping taxes between the regional and central governments have been blamed for increasing the cost of living in Indonesia and creating more bureaucratic red tape.